Getting your tongue around the way South Australians speak

Josh Vivian explores the unique and exotic South Aussie accent

The Australian accent is one that is iconic and unique. It is easily recognised throughout the world. The twang in our voices, the lack of clarity, and the commonly used phrase “g’day mate” are all attributed to us. However, I recently noticed something odd about myself. I don’t fit those criteria at all.

Now, I’m just as Australian as the next bloke. I was born in Adelaide, grew up by the waters of the ‘Mighty Murray’ in the Riverland, and ride my kangaroo to work every day of the week. However, every interstater corrects me on my pronunciation of words like plant, chance and branch, and I’m so often mistaken as British that I might as well just move there.  

At first, I took this as state to state rivalry: classic Australian competition that emerges whenever some starts talking about the Football. Until I visited the United States in 2015.

I was amazed by the number of people who asked me which part of England I was from.

It turns out that we South Australians have our own distinctive vernacular. The preservation of our German and British heritage has left us with not only our own phonology but a unique vocabulary too.

For example, ‘fritz’ is a term only known to South Australia. Processed luncheon meat among the other states is referred to as ‘devon’, ‘stras’, or ‘polony’.

Another common term used throughout South Australia is ‘Stobie pole’, named after James Stobie, who invented it in 1924. Other states will commonly refer to them as ‘power poles’ which are often made of wood as opposed to steel and concrete.

The preservation of British English has also left many South Australian farmers using words such as ‘reap’ as opposed to ‘harvest’, and some mining sites around the state feature the Cornish word ‘wheal’ in their name, which translates to ‘place of work’.

Despite all these odd terms attributed to us South Aussies, the real divider exists in our pronunciation.

South Australians will almost always use a broad A (/aː/) sound to pronounce the letter ‘a’ when followed by nd, ns, nt, nce, nch, and mple. For example, sample, graph, plant, chance, and demand are all pronounced with a broad A rather than a flat A (/æ/).

On top of this, we have the tendency to semi-vocalise the letter ‘L’, which means our ‘L’s come out sounding like ‘W’s in some instances. For instance, words such as milk, hill, and building, are commonly pronounced as ‘miwk’, ‘hiwl’, and ‘biwding’.

South Australians are on another level when it comes to our dialect. The German and British roots of our language have developed this distinctive yet unique way that we communicate with one another. And although it causes comment from those that don’t quite understand our words or why we say them the way we do, at the end of the day, we’re all still Australian.

By Joshua Vivian.